Archive for Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows

Aug
02

Lectures and Field Trips in August

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Tucson Rudasill front yard

August is the classic time to visit southeast Arizona. The monsoons have cooled the air and greened the desert, and all the late summer breeders are singing, the “Mexican” specialties are fledging young, and northern migrants are passing through in large numbers. As if that weren’t enough, August is high season for vagrants from the Pacific and from Middle America. Who knows what this year will turn up?

There are plenty of opportunities to help me explore my favorite landscapes on earth. Why not come along?

Thursday, August 4, 6:00 am

Fort Huachuca Birds and History, with Tom Wood

Elegant Trogon Huachuca May 2007 013

Friday, August 5, 3:00 pm

Book signing, Cochise College

5:00 pm

Sparrow Tales: Discovering Brown Birds

rufous-winged sparrow

Saturday, August 6, 6:00 am

A Day with Rick Wright

Dragoons

Sunday, August 7, 6:00 pm

Boyce-Thompson Bird Sit with Rick Wright

Boyce Thompson landscape

Monday, August 8, 6:30 am

Boyce-Thompson Bird Walk with Rick Wright

January 9, 2007, Boyce Thompson 023

Thursday, August 11, 10:30 am

Museum Birding: From the Specimen Drawer to the Field

trop cass west thick billed left to right West Mexican Birds, museum skins 038

Thursday, August 11, 5:00 pm

Book Signing: ABA Field Guide to Birds of Arizona

Rick signing books at Cape May

Friday, August 12, 5:00 am

California Gulch, with Jake Mohlmann

California Gulch

Saturday, August 13, 10:30 am

Museum Birding: From the Specimen Drawer to the Field

white striped and ivory billed woodcreepers West Mexican Birds, museum skins 030

Monday, August 15, 6:30 pm

The Most Beautiful of the Whole Beautiful Lot: Birding Southeast Arizona

Lowland Painted Redstart Sabino / Bear Canyon IBA April 16 2007 015

Tuesday, August 16, 5:00 am

The East Chiricahuas

Pinery Canyon

Wednesday, August 17, 5:00 am

The East Chiricahuas

Portal, Arizona, landscape

Thursday, August 18, 5:00 am

The East Chiricahuas

Portal, Arizona, August

Friday, August 19, 5:00 am

The East Chiricahuas

Yellow-eyed Junco

Saturday, August 20, 5:00 am

The East Chiricahuas

gray hawk

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Jul
22

Junco Madame X

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Eighty-five years ago today, on July 22, 1931, Alden H. Miller witnessed a series of events seen by few ornithologists before or since.

Collecting in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, Miller shot one of a pair of juncos attending young, Miller found that it was a male hybrid, with the back and flank patterns of the pink-sided junco but a paler, intermediate head. The female, a visually “pure” pink-sided junco, was spared.

Five hours after her mate had been collected, a new male had arrived, courting her with song and tail flitting. Miller shot this second male, a bird with pink flanks, intermediate head color, and a mixed back color.

An hour later, a third male had attached itself to the now twice-widowed female; the newcomer was quickly dispatched and found to be more or less a pink-sided junco, but with intermediate head color.

By noon, yet another male had given his life for science, victim to his interest in the bereaved female; this bird had the back of a pink-sided, the flanks of a gray-headed, and the head color of an intermediate junco. Miller wrote:

I am doubtful that these males were all unattached previous to their interest in female X…. There was no doubt of the attraction of the female for all of them, however…. No intolerance was evidenced by the female. Some of the males gathered food for the young. This indicates disregard on the part of the junco for differences in colors of sides and backs.

Any wonder juncos are so confusing?

Screenshot 2016-07-22 11.29.12

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Oct
23

Plus ça change

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On October 23, 1896, Frank L. Burns “secured” the first Henslow’s sparrow he had ever encountered in his home state of Pennsylvania.

henslow's sparrow, Fuertes

Burns didn’t shoot it. He didn’t net it or trap it. He didn’t even pick it up from under a plate glass window.

A large black and white cat was seen along the fence of a pasture field, with something in her mouth…. It proved to be an [adult Henslow’s sparrow] in excellent plumage, with the exception of the primaries and secondaries, which were scarcely three-fourths grown. This, together with its extreme fatness, rendered it an easy victim to tabby.

We know that Burns skinned the bird. The fate of the cat is less certain.

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Sep
27

Heermann’s Birds

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PUerto P, Sonora, January 24, 2007 126

One hundred fifty years ago today, Adolphus L. Heermann was killed, “having evidently stumbled and fallen,” when his collecting gun fired.

John Cassin, who knew him well, said of Heermann in earlier, healthier days that no better man could be had for a collecting expedition. In 1853, Cassin dedicated a “beautiful gull” to his friend, an

acknowledgment due to his accomplishment as a naturalist, and his perseverance and success as a scientific traveller.

In Washington, D.C., Spencer Baird was equally impressed by Heermann and his work in the field. On working through a collection of sparrows from the west, Baird encountered one that Heermann had sent from Tejon Pass, California, resembling a song sparrow but

differing very appreciably from a large number of specimens from Washington and Oregon…. I have come to the conclusion that the species is worthy of specific separation, and have accordingly named it Melospiza heermanni, after its accomplished collector and discoverer.

Today we “know” that that California bird is “just” a subspecies of the song sparrow. But there’s no reason not to call it the Heermann’s song sparrow, especially today.

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Sep
07

Pretty Faces

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We — or at least I — so often forget about Robert Ridgway as a painter, giving all our attention instead to his talented brother John.

Every time I have occasion or an excuse to use the Baird History, though, I’m struck anew by how sensitive and appealing the plates are that Robert Ridgway painted for the book (some of them under vigorous protest, as Dan Lewis informs us).

Ridgway Baird History Plate 25

Aren’t they lovely?

 

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